Lebanese NNA Features Media Unlimited Fact-Checking Workshop

Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) featured Media Unlimited’s workshop on fact-checking with Minister of Information Manal Abdel Samad thanking director Magda Abu-Fadil for providing dynamic, engaged and interactive coaching to 24 journalists and academics.

NNA coverage of fact-checking workshop

Abdel Samad commended Abu-Fadil for combining theory and practice in the intensive three-day training based primarily on the UNESCO handbook/course “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation” the latter co-authored.

Abu-Fadil coached Lebanese reporters, editors, anchors and media professors on how to detect false information using case studies, exercises and various tools in combating the infodemic.

National News Agency logo

 She conducted the workshop organized by UNESCO and the Lebanese Ministry of Information in March 2021 and hosted expert Nayla Salibi from Monte Carlo Doualiya Radio to launch the training with a review of cyber security and how information disruption can cause great harm due to manipulated data.

The sessions included participants from Lebanon’s Ministry of Information and National News Agency, Saudi 24 TV channel, Kuwait TV, Lebanon’s OTV, Radio Liban, Télé Liban, LBC TV, Al Arabi Al Jadeed, Univérsité Saint Joseph and Univérsité Saint Esprit Kaslik, among others.

Abu-Fadil: Not Correcting Mistakes is Sloppy, Unprofessional Journalism

Blundering into a viral mistake, and refusing to correct it after it’s been spotted, undermines media’s credibility and may even be nefarious, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil said.

“Not correcting the mistake about Ahmad Zaki Yamani at first glance, after the error was pointed out, shows sloppiness and lack of professionalism,” she told Saudi-owned daily Arab News. “If it was done intentionally, it would indicate malicious intent.”

Screen shot of Sheikh Ahmad Zaki Yamani (File-AFP)

She was referring to the incorrect identification of Yamani, the late Saudi Arabian oil minister who died on February 23, as the first secretary general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

“In either case, it undermines the journalist’s or media’s credibility that published that news item,” Abu-Fadil said. “Worst-case scenario, if it were a security-related issue, it could endanger people – all of which is unacceptable and unethical.”

OPEC confirmed Yamani was not its first secretary general, Arab News reported, saying most Saudi and regional media outlets had relied on his Arabic Wikipedia page, which contained inaccurate and unsourced information.

Many journalists reflexively copied the wrong information from Wikipedia without fact-checking it and it went viral. Offenders included CNN Arabic, Asharq Al-Awsat (Arab News’ sister publication), Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ekhbariya TV, Saudi dailies Saudi Gazette and Okaz, as well as Qatar’s Al Jazeera and Russian state-run channel RT Arabic.

Only CNN Arabic and Asharq Al-Awsat corrected the mistake.

“A simple phone call, or even a cursory skim of OPEC’s official list of secretaries-general, would have revealed that Yamani’s name does not appear as the first – or indeed at all,” Arab News said.

It added that despite his legendary standing and influence, the late minister was never a secretary general, but was in fact the first Saudi representative on the OPEC board of governors.

Lebanese Journos Should Sharpen Skills, Build Trust: Abu-Fadil

Lebanese journalists should pay attention to details and not take things for granted if they’re to maintain their credibility, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil said in a podcast interview.

From simple matters like accurately identifying interviewees to expressing themselves in grammatically correct language without any factual errors, Abu-Fadil said journalists who fail to do so undermine their trustworthiness.

“I get very upset because it’s proof of negligence, laziness and lack of professionalism,” she said about seeing her name misspelled in media reports.

Speaking to students producing youth-oriented broadcasts entitled “Radio Talk” marking World Radio Day (WRD), she said the coronavirus had been a blessing and a curse for journalism.

A curse because of constraints on people under lockdown conditions, but a blessing because it’s provided journalists with opportunities to acquire knowledge about public health issues, medicine and how to deal with a devastating pandemic.

“I conducted a workshop on how to cover the coronavirus in a professional, scientific way, and learned a lot while preparing for the training” she said.

Habib Akiki, a student from a nine-member multi-university team, interviewed Abu-Fadil as part of UNESCO’s WRD activities in February 2021, under the supervision of lecturer and communication expert Rouba El Helou.

Asked whether journalists in Lebanon can report on Covid-19 without adding their personal views, Abu-Fadil said she doubted it as they flavor their coverage with politics and sectarianism.

Turning to investigative journalism, Abu-Fadil said this type of reporting is difficult to produce for radio because it isn’t visual.

“People tend to believe more what’s tangible and visible, what they can read, what’s on TV,” she said, noting that reporters in Lebanon still haven’t mastered data journalism, and how to obtain information from documents to formulate their stories.

Journalists must combine that skill with well-written copy and good visuals like infographics, videos and attractive digital elements, but Abu-Fadil cautioned they can’t press buttons and automatically produce investigative stories since that requires hard work that could take weeks, months or years.

“Do Lebanese media have the ability and budgets to commit to good investigative reports?” she asked rhetorically.

On whether the press in Lebanon was sustainable, Abu-Fadil said many newspapers and magazines that existed in the once vibrant media milieu had disappeared and been replaced by websites with advertising revenue taking a direct hit.

“But there are alternatives, there’s financing from NGOs, and there can be crowdfunding, where money is raised through donations from different sources,” she explained.

Due to health safety concerns and remote work requirements, the student radio team was selected from different areas in Lebanon as part of a collaborative digital approach.

UNESCO’s Regional Office in Beirut celebrated WRD in collaboration with three local stations: Radio Lebanon, Voice of Lebanon and Sawt el Mada. The three programs can be heard here.

The radio stations’ managements provided the students with support, and allowed them to choose topics and guests for the shows’ various segments.

Since 2011, UNESCO has celebrated World Radio Day annually to honor the founding of United Nations radio in 1946.

Abu-Fadil’s interview can be heard here.

 

Lebanese Media Ethically Unmoored Covering Revolution: MU Director

Lebanese media seem ethically unmoored amid a revolution that began in October 2019 with the spread of misleading, suspicious and unverified news via WhatsApp and other means, Magda Abu-Fadil told Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya’s “Digital” program.

“Unfortunately, traditional and social media platforms are used as weapons to launch verbal wars among parties, individuals and political groups,” said the Media Unlimited director.

She said countless journalists acted unprofessionally and lacked the requisite background in history, geography, economics and politics in which they’re mired and which they don’t fully comprehend.

Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya’s “Digital” program

“They’re spoon-fed by politicians and they’ve been bred on this,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t generalize because there are professional and articulate journalists.

Since the uprising began on October 17, there’s been an abnormal slide downward, and journalists working for TV channels, for example, have been using hashtags to attack assorted and sundry on social media, Abu-Fadil noted.

“That’s unacceptable, it diminishes their credibility,” she said.

Journalists have also been seen arguing heatedly, or practically fighting, with demonstrators in Lebanon live on the air over political and other issues.

“Journalists should not become the news,” cautioned Abu-Fadil. “Journalists cover the news, but some of them have over-inflated egos and consider themselves newsworthy, which is a big mistake because there’s a red line they shouldn’t cross.”

Another issue she touched on was the upsurge in coverage of humanitarian cases with the growing impact of the economic crisis in Lebanon and TV channels competing to show the most misery by barging into people’s homes with their microphones, lights and cameras to highlight the decrepit houses and horrible conditions in which they live.

“They ask questions like ‘how do you feel living in a house that’s crumbling over your head?’ It’s shameful,” she said. “There’s people’s dignity to consider.”

Abu-Fadil said it was the responsibility of the journalists and those who direct news teams to demonstrate more sensitivity and ethics in such reporting, adding that there’s an obvious lack of training.

“Quite often it’s also because there isn’t enough time: Journalists tell me ‘you train us and give us advice, but the boss says we can’t do it, or the editor says there isn’t time,’” she said. “That’s unacceptable, there’s such a thing as media ethics.”

A sad case study she mentioned reflects the reality of the situation.

A veteran journalist wrote an op-ed in a major Lebanese Arabic-language newspaper which he plagiarized in its entirety from an article that appeared earlier in English, also in Lebanon.

When the original author exposed him on Twitter, the journalist apologized, but it was a lame regret.

Magda Abu-Fadil’s reaction to a tweet about the plagiarized article

“It’s clear the person who plagiarized, who stole the article, has no ethics, is lacking in creativity, because he reached a dead end, where he couldn’t write any more,” Abu-Fadil said. “It happened to me years ago when I was a correspondent in Washington and the bureau chief used to steal my articles and delete my byline from stories or scoops and reports to make it appear as if he wrote them.”

Abu-Fadil said journalism education must keep up with the state of the industry and technology and journalists should attend regular workshops to update and upgrade their skills to be fully functional in a digital multimedia ecosystem, notably when faced with crises such as the one Lebanon is experiencing.

Abu-Fadil Draws Line Between Free Speech, Insults in Lebanese Media

A two-month-plus revolution in Lebanon has brought out the worst in people, with countless traditional and social media spreading hate speech, insults and instigation to violence, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told Medi1Radio.

“The very thin line between insults and freedom of expression in the media is when you violate other people’s rights and don’t give them the opportunity to express their views, as often occurs in traditional and social media in Lebanon,” she said. “Unfortunately, we see politicized and biased media.”

Correspondent Khaldoun Zeineddine reported that freedom of expression was enshrined in the preamble to the Lebanese constitution but asked if the protesters against a corrupt system and failed economic policies had contributed to confusing freedom with insults.

“Some protesters have contributed to mixing between freedom of expression and abuses, given their lack of arguments and critical thinking, and the culture of civilized debate, but that doesn’t apply to everyone,” Abu-Fadil added.

The brief interview can be heard below.

 

MCD Interviews Abu-Fadil on “Fake News,” Media Literacy

Monte Carlo Doualiya radio interviewed Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil to discuss her take on mitigating the dangers of “fake news” and how journalists should verify sources.

Digital” show host Nayla Al Salibi dedicated a segment to Abu-Fadil’s media and information literacy chapter in the UNESCO book/course “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation” and the tools needed to handle misleading news before it’s published.

Monte Carlo Doualiya’s “Digital” show interviewed MU director Abu-Fadil

Abu-Fadil shed light on journalists’ issues in dealing with social media and dubious platforms as well as media ethics in the digital age since photos, videos and audio content can be manipulated with ease.

She insisted the expression “fake news” should not be used since it’s been weaponized by politicians, notably U.S. President Donald Trump and others, against their adversaries.

Abu-Fadil said disinformation and misinformation in the “post-truth” and “alternative facts” age were more appropriate, depending on their respective contexts.

You can hear the interview here [3].

MU Director to MCD: Newsrooms Have Ethical Duties

Legacy newsrooms face immense challenges in dealing with media ethics in the digital age, notably with competition from social networks and platforms, but have a responsibility to maintain their credibility and professionalism, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya (MCD).

“To determine the accuracy of information in digital pictures, for example, there are applications (apps) one can use to trace their origin,” she said. “Is the picture an original? Was it stolen from somewhere? Was it tampered with?”

Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya

In Part 2 of an interview on MCD, Abu-Fadil discussed the dilemma editors face in determining what photos, videos and text to disseminate when the content is sensitive, offensive and tragic.

She pointed to a number of apps and tools used in verifying content to find out if it’s plagiarized.

What’s key is to deliver information that’s accurate, balanced, that doesn’t deviate from humanity and that’s ethical, Abu-Fadil insisted, noting that critical thinking is very important but that many journalists don’t always use it in their work.

Abu-Fadil advised journalists and news organizations to be completely transparent when mistakes are made and to admit and correct them immediately if they’re to maintain their credibility.

She discussed the impact of “fake news,” “post-truth,” and “alternative facts” during a segment of the program “Digital” in February 2018 hosted by Nayla Salibi.

Part 1 of the interview can be heard here.

Media Ethics in Digital Age Imperative: Abu-Fadil

Media Ethics require critical thinking, notably when social media are used to spread harmful content, Magda Abu-Fadil told Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya.

“Ethics are in a state of disarray because although digital media are good, attractive and fast as they disseminate information, visuals and sound with speed, critical thinking to choose the words, pictures, sound bites and videos isn’t as readily available as in the past,” the Media Unlimited director explained.

Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya

There’s fierce competition between legacy media and citizen journalists in addition to all other social media output, so whoever publishes material is breathless (in his/her attempt to be out there), which is very dangerous, she added.

“The result is that what’s being published, quite often, is not just unethical and disturbing, but downright criminal,” Abu-Fadil said.

She discussed the impact of “fake news,” “post-truth,” and “alternative facts” in the age of competing social platforms during a segment of the program “Digital” in January 2018 hosted by Nayla Salibi.

The full interview can be heard and downloaded here.

Lebanese Journalists Need Training on Migrant/Refugee Coverage: Abu-Fadil

Lebanese journalists are mostly ill equipped to cover the migrant and refugee story, with reporting ranging from hate speech to a sympathetic approach, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told an Austrian newspaper.

Media coverage of migrants and refugees in Lebanon is a mixed bag: it includes xenophobia and fear mongering as well as more humanitarian reporting,” she said. “But a major problem is that journalists do this along with coverage of other news and have to juggle many priorities with increasingly shrinking resources, so it’s a challenge.”

Abu-Fadil was interviewed by the Salzburger Nachrichten on her contribution to two international reports on how media have covered the migrant and refugee crisis, notably in the Euro Mediterranean region.

“Additionally, nobody is trained to cover migrant and refugee issues,” she said. “There’s a need for such training and for understanding the consequences of the stress placed on journalists who cover this crisis.”

This is a [PDF] of the article, including views from various experts.

Magda Abu-Fadil: Journalists Over-Stretched, Underpaid

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told the Open Media Hub over-stretched and underpaid Lebanese journalists find covering the migration and refugee story challenging.

Magda Abu-Fadil on Lebanese media’s coverage of migration-refugee story

“Journalists quite often have too much on their plate…they don’t have a regular beat called migration or refugee problems,” she said of reporters having to cover several different stories on a given day.

She was interviewed about the challenges of reporting on migration at the launch of the 2017 Migration Media Award, on which she served as a member of the jury.

The interview can be viewed here.